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Brandeis Commencement Draws Protests

May 27, 2010 by  


By Michael P. Corcoran, Globe Correspondent

Outside Brandeis University’s commencement ceremony yesterday, about 20 students protested the college’s choice for its keynote speaker, Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

The selection of Oren, who critics say is a polarizing figure due to his role in defending controversial Israeli policies occupied territory, such as the building of settlements in Jerusalem and the invasion of Gaza in 2008-09, sparked controversy when the school announced its choice last month.

It was not the first time a speaker with ties to turbulence in the Middle East has angered students. In 2007, there was intense debate on campus over whether to host President Carter following the release of a book that was critical of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. Last November, some students objected to a campus appearance by Richard Goldstone, who oversaw a United Nations report that accused Israel of war crimes.

“Oren’s far-right positions reflect only a small part of the opinion of the Jewish community, and his selection privileges that part as the embodiment of the Jewish people,’’ said a letter signed by 140 Brandeis students. “This marginalizes the significant (and growing) segment of the Jewish population that does not agree with him on these issues, as well as the larger Brandeis community that feels similarly.’’

Outside the commencement ceremony yesterday afternoon, students showed mixed feelings about the controversy.

Some students said they were proud of the student protesters. “I congratulated them because they had a focus on human rights,” said Bimal Gadal, who earned a master’s degree in international development. “This school is about social justice, and they got attention to their issues. I thought it was the right thing to do.’’

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